Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1989, Pope John Paul II announced his intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, the first in the history of Church. In July 1990 in Lomé (Togo), on the occasion of an African Episcopate meeting, the Lineamenta were published, thus initiating the phase of reflection and preparation that resulted in the drafting of the Instrumentum Laboris, published in February 1993 in Kampala (Uganda ), during the ninth pastoral visit of Pope in Africa.
The solemn and festive opening of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, with its elements of African culture on the theme "The Church in Africa and her evangelizing mission towards the Year 2000: 'You will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8) " was celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, April 10, 1994. For a month, the Synod Fathers dealt with the general theme of evangelization according to five perspectives: proclamation of the message, inculturation, dialogue, justice and peace, social media.
In this historic event the Bishops of Rwanda could not attend, "put to the test by an impressive tragedy, also linked to the dramatic assassination of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi" as the Pontiff said in his homily. The work of the Synod were influenced by the tragic news that gradually came from Rwanda: on April 14, the Holy Father celebrated Mass for the Rwandese people and members of the Synod issued an "urgent appeal" for reconciliation and for peace negotiations in Rwanda.
In the long "Message to the People of God" prepared by the Synod Fathers at the end of the meeting, on May 8, 1994, the 315 participants defined the just concluded Synod "Synod of Resurrection, the Synod of hope". After paying homage to the heroic efforts carried out by the missionaries of different generations, the Message pointed out the beginning of a new phase in the history of the evangelization of the African continent. "In thanksgiving for the gift of faith received, animated by a great joy, we turn to the year 2000 which is on the horizon - the Synod Fathers wrote at the end of their Message -. We are full of hope and determined to share the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ".
On 14 September 1995, the Holy Father John Paul II began his 67th international trip, taking him for the eleventh time in Africa, touching three countries - Cameroon, South Africa and Kenya - for the Special Assembly's celebration of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to Africa and Madagascar, during which the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Africa" was made public. For the first time an official document was signed by the Holy Father outside the Vatican City and Rome, as evidenced by the indication before the signature: "Given to Yaounde, in Cameroon, on September 14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross , in the year 1995, the seventeenth of my Pontificate".
On 15 September, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Victories in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, the Pope presided the commemorative Session of the Synod, and during the homily launched an appeal in front of the colorful mosaic of ethnic groups, divisions and challenges that characterize the Africa: "Do not let the differences and distances between you crystallize into walls that can divide you, but make sure that they become occasions and appeals to discover and share the extraordinary richness of Christ’s heart".
On Sunday afternoon, September 17, 1995, John Paul II presided the second commemorative Session of the Synod for Africa in the Cathedral in Johannesburg, South Africa. "The Spirit calls the Church in Africa to be a Church of mission which itself becomes missionary", he said in his speech, then mentioning "the millions of refugees and displaced on African soil" for various reasons that "are our brothers and sisters. They need the help of the international community. They need the help of Africa itself!"
On the afternoon of September 20, 1995, the Holy Father presided at the third commemorative Session of the Synod at the Resurrection Garden in Nairobi, Kenya. As he had done in Yaoundé and in Johannesburg, John Paul II delivered a copy of the Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Africa" to representatives of Bishops, priests, religious and laity, thus intending to deliver the fruit of the African Synod to all members of the Church of the continent. "The Synod has ended. The Synod has just begun - the Pope said -. The road ahead will not be easy, but every member of the family of God in Africa - Bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious men and women, lay, men and women - must all trust in the Lord's promise: 'Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world '(Mt 28:20)". (SL) (Agenzia Fides 15/11/2011)